Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 2, 2010

Manila’s Peninsula: A Revolutionary Hotel Experience

Revolutionary luxury: The famed lobby of the Manila Peninsula Hotel (Jerry Garrett Photo)

MANILA, The Philippines

How many five-star luxury hotel properties can boast of hosting their own armed coup d’etat?

The Peninsula Hotel in Manila can. It is also one of the very few hotels, five-star or not, that I can think of which has had a battle-ready tank parked in its lobby. Or that has had its lobby guests held hostage. Or its main floor tear-gassed. Or has served as a Red Cross evacuation center. All of this – and more – in just the last few years.

And the Peninsula has managed to endure these travails with its rococo sense of elegance and luxury pretty much intact. I highly recommend that if you visit Manila, you stay at the Manila Pen. After evaluating the many swank hotel choices in the city, that is what I decided to do. I even paid for my own room – so you can know that I am not a paid shill for the place.

Here’s how much guests like staying at the Peninsula: When the coup happened in late 2006, government troops had to plead with the guests to leave their rooms so they could tear-gas the hotel and storm the lobby. How many hotels can claim that kind of customer loyalty?

No chocolate left behind: Why Peninsula guests are reluctant to leave

The coup involved some disaffected military officers and politicians who took over the hotel and announced they were overthrowing the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It was your standard, condensed, over-in-one-day coup, and hotel staff quickly cleaned up the unpleasantness, so that dinner could be served in the main dining room, as scheduled, that night. The Pen is that kind of place: customer service and satisfaction is their No. 1 objective.

The devaluation of the Philippine peso has created some tantalyzing rate-of-exchange bargains for foreign travelers here. The travel indexing website, Kayak, rates no less than 16 Manila hotels as five-star properties. Rates are generally $125-$225 a night. (The so-called “Big Four” of hotels here are the Pen, the Intercontinental, the Pan Pacific and the historic Manila Hotel.) The Peninsula offers 497 rooms, most of which are usually available in that range.

The landmark fountain outside the Manila Pen

The hotel is a visual feast. The marble lobby is breath-taking; the multi-story fountain is a landmark. There are two towers, 11 stories tall, and an elite level of rooms on the upper floors. Each room is expensively and tastefully decorated, and completely equipped for the business, as well as leisure, traveler. My room had a lovely solid wood desk that I would have loved to take home, if I could have figured out how to smuggle it out! I had to settle for a bathrobe.

Peaceful serene rooms, where you could easily sleep through an armed insurrection

Daily fruit baskets, with all sorts of exotic choices, were available. Homemade chocolates – made on the premises for over a quarter century by the same master chocolatier (who is blind, by the way) – are legendary for quality, taste and artistry.

It almost goes without saying the food is excellent, and the service attentive.

Since the hotel opened in 1976, it has tried to set a standard for the Philippine lodging industry. It underwent a massive renovation in 1997, and has been updated continually since then as many pretenders to its crown have opened up, and tried to raise the bar.

But still, when disaster strikes (as it did in late 2009 when a typhoon ravaged the city and the Red Cross used the high-and-dry Pen for a command post) or your revolution needs a function room, the Peninsula remains Manila’s hotel of choice.

Jerry Garrett

February 2, 2010


  1. […] spent a few days in Manila (the subject of other columns on this site), before heading out for a 10-plus hour flight on Hawaiian Airlines to my next stop in […]

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